(Versus the two things that I really want to write about.)
by Bud Stratford
A skateboarder is anybody that rides a skateboard. And we all know what a “skateboard” is, because we ain’t stewpid…
Skateboarding is supposed to be fun,
Skateboarding is for everybody and anybody (whether everybody and anybody agrees with that or not, is an altogether different matter… but, more on that in a bit). And,
Skateboarding is all about whatever you want it to be. You have a brain and a body of your own. So, use ’em. And don’t let anybody tell you any damned differently.
So, there you go. “The Ten Things You Need To Know”, edited down to a grand total of four completely obvious, self-evident, and unarguable truths. Essay, complete…! Well, almost…
What I do have in front of me today, though, are two things that are bumming me… and, a lot of my skateboarding allies and cohorts… out. Those two things are “The Rules”, and “The (Increasingly Frequent) Discrimination”.
Skateboarding… for better, or for worse (mostly worse, as we’ll soon see)… is now completely and fully “mainstreamed”. Of course, the “mainstreaming” of skateboarding probably makes The Industry pretty darn happy, overall. The more people that skate, the more skateboards that The Industry sells. And that’s probably pretty cool for The Industry. But not so much, for our skateboarding culture.
Yes. There was a day when we had “a culture”. We’ve always had our own culture. At least, we used to have our own culture. Back in the day… God, I feel old now… our culture was a pretty positive and accepting set of rules and ethics. “The Four Rules” that I just listed a few paragraphs ago were pretty much it… the total, comprehensive, and complete set of “the rules” that all skateboarders… or, maybe more accurately, all skateboarders that were worth a shit… lived by, and accepted as unalienable fact.
Every other rule that could be imagined, extolled, espoused, articulated, agreed upon, and decreed to be “law”, pretty much existed to be broken. Because that’s what skaters did. We broke rules. Except “The Four”. Because those were sacred.
Skateboarding, almost exclusively, was that thing that “freaky kids” did. That thing that moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, guidance councellors, teachers, and principals really didn’t understand all that well, and didn’t really want to care all that much about. And that was perfectly a-ok with us, actually. The great thing about being uncared for and misunderstood was that it allowed us a huge amount of unfettered freedom to write our own rules, and create our own parallel worlds, well outside “the rules” of mainstream mediocrity. Which is exactly what we did: we created an entire ethos, and a set of “rules”, that rebelled against the “mainstream” of “popular culture”. And when I refer to “popular culture”, please keep in mind that I use the word “culture” very, very loosely. In my world, “Popular Culture” should really be renamed “Chronic Catcrap”. But that’s just my personal interpretation of it. Of course.
Twenty years ago, there was no ageism in skateboarding. The reason, of course, was stupidly simple: old people simply didn’t skate. “Old” people would never even consider taking up skating… too dangerous to life and limb, they thought… and even skateboarders themselves never really skated much after, say, the ripe old age of 25 or so. At that age, most skaters simply quit skating, and moved on with their lives. They got girlfriends, cars, jobs, perhaps a post-secondary education, careers, wives, kids of their own… mistresses, vices, habits, ulcers, and whatever misery that mainstream mediocrity has in store for us as we become old and broken shells of our former, idealistic and exuberant, fun-filled selves. Skateboarding was thus relegated to “that fun thing that I used to do”, before life caught up with us and got in the way of the good times.
There was also no racism or sexism in skateboarding, back in my time. Mostly because skateboarding was the exclusive pastime of white, suburban (or urban), lower-to-middle-class boys. Of course, there were exceptions to the rule… and there have always been exceptions to that rule… but, not that many. And of course, we wholeheartedly supported those few exceptions. Because troublemakers just love breaking rules, right..?
There weren’t that many “types” of skateboarding to enjoy, either. Many forms of skateboarding… slalom, barrel jumping, longboarding, and to a great extent, freestyle… had melted away from their former heydays of the 1970’s. My generation had vert, street, mini-ramp (which was a common middle-ground compromise between vert and street)… and, in the darker corners of the peripheries, the backyard pool scene. “Skateparks”, as we know them today, didn’t exist; those were another anachronism that had died off like the dinosaurs in the early 1980’s.
But, my generation was the first (and perhaps, the last) of “The Great Skateboarding Idealists”. We were, in a great many ways, “The Greatest Generation” of skateboarders. I’ll fight that with anybody, and win, hands down.
First of all, my generation was the first generation that didn’t quit skating, en masse, at the ripe old age of 25. For whatever reason… probably because we were, by nature, punk rule breakers and chronic troublemakers… we just didn’t see the point of giving up something that we beloved so immensely, to conform to somebody else’s definition of chronic catcrap.
We were also the first generation to wrestle control of The Industry away from “The Old Guard”, and start fully independent companies. This made for a much more directly skater-run-and-influenced industry than skateboarding had ever seen in its (rather short) history. And the number of companies (today, known as “brands”) that we breathed life into was stunningly staggering. Realizing that, my generation of skateboarders was the first generation that made serious and effectual efforts to take skateboarding “mainstream”, as we realized (subconsciously, at least) that the existing “pie” was only so big, and therefore would only support so many companies/brands.
And lastly, my generation was the first generation to take a hard, long look back in time, and start digging up some of the treasures that our predecessors had long left in the dust. Forms of skateboarding that had been long considered extinct were brought out of the literal woodwork, and renewed with an enthusiastic vigor.
I must say that our intentions were noble enough. My generation, being “The Great Idealists”, held lofty ambitions of invading the mainstream, and re-making it in skateboarding’s image. There were ample precedents for this; we had actually been doing it, with some success, for decades. It’s a well-known and well-documented fact that skateboarders have influenced the artistic realms of music, photography, graphic design, writing, publishing, architecture, and film (among a whole host of other creative pursuits); if we can launch a full-scale invasion of the art world and prevail, why couldn’t we do the same thing to the greater society at large…? Again, I think this was a very subconscious effort on most of our parts… but, there were a small handful of extreme forward-thinkers that did consciously realize the immense potential, and actively pursued that potential quite deliberately.
Of course, things don’t always go quite as we plan. And there are always unintended consequences that could never be predicted, nor accounted for. I don’t think that any of us really thought about what might happen if skateboarding was invaded by the mainstream, instead of vice-versa. And only once the Pandora’s box of “mainstreaming” was cracked open did we realize… much to our own horror and dismay… that there was no do-over, turning around, or going back. We really thought that companies like Airwalk, Vans, Vision Street Wear, Limpies, Eight Ball (later Droors Clothing, later still DC), Etnies (and Emerica, and eS…), et cetera, would take over the fashion world, and put the rest of the world to shame. It never really dawned on us that The Mainstream Corporate Hegemony might either kill these companies outright… or, conversely, actually buy up these brands with their bottomless corporate capital reserves, strip them of their founders, their teams, their visions, their souls, their ethos, and the rest of their defining characteristics… and toss them into some Payless Shoe Bargain Bin somewhere. Vans, for some reason, has been allowed the freedom to buck the trend, stay somewhat true to its roots, and continue relatively unobstructed and unfettered. But the rest are either long gone, or are mere shadows of their fomer greatness. Even relatively recent upstarts like Fallen (gone) and Lakai (struggling) are not immune to the cycle of death and destruction under the mainstream bulldozer blade. But Nike, Converse, and Adidas are thriving in the skate shoe market. Unintended consequences. Damn them all.
Thankfully, the skate hardgoods brands are still ours. Mostly. But even they have been more than happy to compromise their ideals, jump onto “mainstream mores”, and increasingly outsource their production to third-world sweatshops in the name of increased profitability and market share. So much for “quality products”, “honest business ethics”, and “human dignity”, I guess…
The same has happened to us culturally, of course. While we do shed a tear or two over the demises of skate brands, the demise of skate culture has been far more damaging and depressing. With the Mainstream Invasion, we’ve also been inundated with Mainstream Mores on a cultural level absolutely unprecedented in our history. With the influx of females into our culture (an astoundingly good thing for both our culture, and our industry), we’ve also seen a wave of sexism infiltrate our collective ethos… probably best represented by “skate superstar” Nyjah Huston, and his epicly ill-advised “girls shouldn’t be allowed to skate”diatribe.
With more minorities skating than ever (another astounding sign of progress for our culture and our industry), we’ve also inherited the likes of Corey Duffel, and his epicly ill-advised “trashy n**ger” monologue.
With more “old” skaters skating than ever, we’ve also seen a huge wave of agism washing over our social, online, and print media, openly questioning why these geezers (“Barneys”, in the skate vernacular) really have to take up so much open space at our skateparks… the free, public skateparks that our “old geezer” generation fought tooth and nail for (and prevailed in successfully securing) for the benefit of future generations of skateboarders everywhere, mind you.
Of course, with the invasion of new and diverse forms of skateboarding that have (thankfully) been brought back from the dead, such as slalom, freestyle, and longboarding… we have also allowed “skate-ism” to run rampant throughout our “culture”. That is, of course, active discrimination against other skaters based on what kind of skateboarding they might (or might not) enjoy.
And I might add… just because, this is the one that I personally witness the most often of all… “Able-ism”, which I would define as “discrimination based on one’s ability to skate ‘good’ or not”.
I never really thought I’d ever see the day where I’d be sitting at my laptop, and writing about so many types of skater-versus-skater discrimination, and how much of it is currently running through or scenes and our culture.
Skaters are supposed to be fighting the world, and winning. Not, fighting each other and losing. Which makes me wonder, and wonder often, what in the hell are we coming to…?
STAND BY FOR PART 2…
Along with all the “-isms” that we’ve inherited from The Mainstreaming, we also have a shit-ton of new “rules” to follow, as well… as dictated by The Controlling Cliques, The Elitist Element, and The Mainstream Media (which includes every Tom, Dick, and ignorant, uneducated, and unenlightened Harry these days)… which only serve to pander to everybody’s desire to make a quick buck, and to massage everybody’s over-inflated egos and latent insecurities. “This is a skateboard. This is not a skateboard. This is a skateboarder. This guy is not a skateboarder. Skateboarding can only be done this way. You can’t skate that way. You have to skate this kind of board. You suck if you have that kind of board. You have to buy it at this shop. You can’t buy it at that shop. You have to do these tricks. You can’t do those tricks. You have to wear these shoes, shirts, and pants to be cool. If you wear those shoes, shirts, and pants, then you’re lame. You have to listen to this kind of music. You suck if you listen to that kind of music. You can only skate these spots. You can’t skate that skatepark. You can’t have that style. You can’t push mongo. You have to think like a clone. You cannot, under any circumstance, think for yourself…” And on and on and on it goes. So much for “unfettered freedom and colorful diversity”, huh…?
The problem with skateboarding is that it is, on a very foundational and fundamental level, a uniquely self-defining, self-determining pastime that ends up being an excellent… too excellent, perhaps… conduit for self-exploration, self-empowerment, and self-discovery.
Now, note how many times “self” appears in that sentence. Not, your parents. Not, your buddies. Not, your enemies. Not, your peers. Not, your aunts and uncles. Not, your teachers, principals, and guidance counselors. Not, your boss. Not, your girlfriend (or boyfriend). Not, the skateboard industry. Not, the skate shop down the street. Not, your skateboard hero. You. Yourself. Your self. You make these rules regarding when, where, and how you are going to engage with, and enjoy skateboarding. Not, somebody else. This used to be skateboarding’s common-culture core. Apparently, not so anymore.
As far as the “traditional media” of skate magazines and skate websites go… some are far too busy pandering to the unimaginative public with an endless cavalcade of NBDs and stair counts, to say anything of much meaning or merit. As such, we have the unprecedented situation where all mainstream skate media… and even, most “independent” media… and obviously, the vast majority of “social media”… are all utterly useless in terms of either education, or enlightenment. Skateboarding has inherited and embraced the greater society’s version of “mass media”, a paradigm that even greater society now considers largely untrustworthy, and in any rate, absolutely worthless. We’ve happily joined the Moron March to Mass Media Mediocrity. Yay for us.
My generation may have been the generation that actively pursued… and, largely prevailed in… “the mainstreaming of skateboarding”. But today, my generation is also the one that regrets this “progression” the most. We’re realizing that we’ve lost far more than we have gained in the exchange. I was just talking to Mark Noland (of Rancheros fame) about this, just this week… and of course, he totally agreed that this is a very real problem. But Mark and I are in no way alone in this assessment. Almost any skater of my generation… I dare say, virtually every skater of my generation… would, and surely will, say the same exact thing. As a generation of activist skateboarders, we got exactly what we wanted, and we achieved exactly what we set out to accomplish: we “mainstreamed” the shit out of skateboarding. But as a generation of hopeless idealists, we’re also now realizing that we have epicly screwed this pooch up. This thing that started out as ours, and ours alone, has now become “theirs”. Which makes it, by definition, not ours anymore.
But, y’know… we’re a smart, crafty, and inventive generation of skateboarders. We’re still the naive, idealistic, punk rule breakers and troublemakers that we’ve always been. Thankfully, we do still venture out into “the mainstream” from time to time, and leave our marks on “The World At Large”. Even I spend most of my time these days managing non-skate-related businesses… but true to form, much more in the spirit and the ethos of a well-run skateboard team, than traditional venture capitalist enterprises. Businesses that are “structured” around individual creativity, initiative, and self-determination… just like skateboarding used to be. Businesses that break the rules, and change the game for the better. Other skaters of my generation have also started non-skate-related businesses, and have even taken on the challenge of public service (and largely won, because that’s what skaters do). Skaters of my generation, as well as successive generations, do still leave lasting marks on the art world, as we always have (and always will). Skaters will continue to challenge the “outside” world to be more ethical, more progressive, more idealistic, and more accepting of colorful diversity than the world would otherwise be, if we weren’t here to carry the torch, and kick the ball forward. That is the lasting legacy of my generation of skateboarders. Hopefully, we’ll get it right this time around.
It’s really too bad that we unwittingly sacrificed the ethos and ethics of skateboarding itself, in order to make a positive difference in and, contribution to… the greater world at large. But even within the world of skateboarding, my generation is still keeping the embers of forward-thinking positivity, universal acceptance, colorful diversity, and enthusiastic encouragement afloat. Especially in the form and function of all these”old-guy skate clubs” that we’ve seen popping up all over the place… a few of which I’m a tee-wearing member and enthusiastic supporter of, myself. Groups of overly-idealistic skaters that are more than happy to let you run whatever you brung, be whatever you want to be, and enthusiastically encourage the diversity of thought and action that results from absolute and unfettered freedom. It may not exist everywhere within skateboarding just yet. But at least it still exists somewhere within skateboarding.
We’ve also spawned a shadow skate industry… completely of our own design and execution, as always. That one’s pretty exciting. While the corporate-owned skate brands (formerly, skater-owned skate brands) are firing American craftsmen, mothballing American woodshops, and sending our jobs, production, mores, and values overseas in the name of short-term profitability and long-term commonality and stagnation (the hallmarks of anything “mainstream”)… a few idealists of my generation have taken matters into their own hands, and independently started their own woodshops to make the quality, authentic-performance-and-individual-creativity-inspired skateboards that Our Industry used to make, in quantity, decades ago.
Authentic aged hardwoods, bulletproof glues, and real-deal, hand pulled silkscreened graphics (printed directly onto wood, not onto the cost-cutting mass-market efficiency of “heat transfers”) still exist out there for a discriminating, niche market of idealist skaters that demand nothing but the best, skate it with individual style, and refuse to accept the compromised catcrap that “The Industry” forces down the throats of otherwise unenlightened kids (that, unfortunately, have never known, or experienced, anything better). I’m sure that uncompromised-quality trucks, wheels, and bearings with true ABEC ratings (instead of outright lies and marketing hogwash) are sure to follow. Maybe someday, skaters will even resolve to support skater-owned shoe companies again. One can still daydream, I suppose…
So while the rest of the skateboarding world wallows in the oceans of mundane mediocrity, restrictive “rules”, and a whole host of hateful “-isms” that hold them back from true freedom and fulfilled happiness… skateboarding, as we originally intended it to be, is still quite alive and well, in our parallel world out on the peripheries of “popular culture”.
You’re welcome to join us, of course. Just as you’ve always been.
But please leave your restrictive rules, popular pandering, harsh hate, and mass-mainstream cultural catcrap at home.
They’re not welcome here.
Bud Stratford is a freelance writer and long-winded jackass that types exceptionally wordy essays about stuff that nobody really cares about anymore. If you’re one of his three or four fans, feel free to look him up on Facebook sometime.
What a summer! Over here on the “beast coast” and the tri-skate area, the longboard scene is picking up steam and gaining speed. Although a couple of events were cancelled, the longboard community is growing and the talent is showing. As we roll on forward more and more events are on the rise.
Anyone who takes the time and dedicates themselves to hosting an event should be revered in our community. The logistics to host a city approved event are mind numbing and, most certainly, frustrating for the host. The same goes for the smaller outlaw events which are the bread and butter for most emerging longboarders and a place where the competitive spirit is mildly on hold, friendships are forged and talent improved.
One of the areas legendary hosts, Adam Dabonka, is familiar with both roads. The founder and force behind Major Stokem and a wide range of outlaw events, Adam started the summer off on Skate Day in mid- june with “the 5 Bomber”. What a great night ! Oh yes, I forgot to mention, it started at mid-night with a “ Dirty Start”. A push race through NYC streets from Central Park to Washington Square Park. Even better was his “Roots Session” in Oakland N.J., another epic event with a lot more speed. Around mid-July, Aaryn Scott Davis and Michael Avery Simmons hosted a largely attended event called The Dunston Avenue Slidejam in Queens N.Y. This event was lit from start to finish. When up to 70 longboarders attack a Queens hill all day long and no cops respond to that event, its not only a success, its miraculous. Aside from being of great talent themselves, Aaryn and Mike brought together many of the areas best. About a week later in Paramus, N.J. Carlo Domenico Castoro hosted the first “Diablo Sesh”, another big day of speed and sliding. As many of us know, August starts with Central Mass. Sadly, I was unable to attend because of a responsibility to an unrelated convention in San Diego. This certainly balanced out missing Central Mass. Naturally, I packed my gear and pre-arranged a visit to ‘Blacks’ where i was met with locals, Anthony Pilpa and Richie lee Hernandez. As if the scenic beauty wasn’t enough, I had all I could do from picking my jaw from the floor watching Pilpas’ and Hernandez’ super lit and steazed out style. These guys scream SoCal and Pro. I really owe them and the other locals a debt of gratitude for their spirit and hospitality. Back to New York, where August had no shortage of events in the tri-skate area. You could take your pick from the ‘Nitro-slide jam, the ’Newton- slide jam or the ‘Battle of the Boroughs’. If you were looking for an event, you would find one. As the sun begins its slow creep south across the horizon each day at dusk we are reminded that we draw closer and closer to the end of another summer. The weather will get more frigid, the leaves will fall and snow will eventually cover the roads but in the tri-skate area, because of the few who make an event available, we will skate regardless. So give thanks to all those cats that take the time to make it happen. There is, most certainly, no financial gain in hosting an event but if you measure wealth in smiles and good vibes then you are rich beyond imagination. Thanks to all the Bro’s that make it happen.
Skateboarding is absolutely everywhere in Brazil. I went there two months ago and I spent a couple of weeks in Rio de Janeiro, just before the Olympic fever. In the center of the city I came across a very nice longboard community called Guanabara Boards. The two owners, Alex Batista and Teresa Madeline Geer Batista, have an ‘escola de skate’ (longboarding freestyle, dancing school). The school is for everyone who wants to learn or develop their board skills. All the equipment is provided, including a variety of boards and safety gear. The two have more than 30 years of skateboarding experience to share with their students. They are expert teachers, who can certainly be considered as pro-longboarders, teach in both Portuguese and English. Guanabara Boards is made up of ten amazing Brazilians and one sweet British girl (Teresa), who ride almost every day. For them, longboarding means passion, fun, freedom, happiness – it’s a way to live. They are passionate about sharing longboarding through their classes. They want to stop people being scared about riding and to learn in the safest way possible, whether you are a child, a woman, a man, a parent, old or young – you can start learning this sport at anytime in yourlife. They show their students that it is totally normal sometimes to fall down after trying new tricks and they teach how to fall down in the safest way and that the most important thing is getting up and trying again, to keep pushing yourself. I first discovered Alex and Teresa on a YouTube video called “Dancing, Freestyle, Freeride, Downhill’, when I was at home last summer, in Mont-Tremblant, Québec, Canada. I soon got addicted to their videos where I also discovered Ana Maria Suzano, one of the Guanabara Boards team and student of Alex, freestyling barefoot by the beach. When I saw her dancing on her board, all I could think to myself was – I really want to do that! I was hungry to find that freedom and share that happiness. Ana Maria Suzano was like spark of genius in every move that she perfectly executed. She was inviting me to try dancing too. The Brazileira has gained millions of views on her Youtube videos since 2013. She’s globally appreciated for her talent, style and control of the board. Since I was 12 years old I’ve always had a board under my feet, but here, in North America we don’t see a lot of longboard dancing tricks, because we have so many places to downhill and practice freestyle. So for me, it was a new challenge to try dancing and I decided to contact the Guanabara Boards team to help me with my new mission. I booked my flight ticket to Rio, a city that everybody told me was a paradise for riders. I can tell you personally, that this totally true. When I arrived I was stoked to ride by Ipanema beach, the incredible view of the ocean and the rocky mountains, Dois Irmãos (the two brothers), marking the landscape. The city’s cycle paths are perfect to ride on, and there are also skateparks in almost every corner you roll. On Sunday, the main roads right next to the beaches of Ipanema, Copacabana and Flamengo are closed so you can enjoy car-free concrete with your bike, rollerskates, board or even just jogging or walking. In all of my travels, I’ve never seen so many people riding a board – kids, families,workers, surfers and even tourists – everyone is riding. Another amazing place to hang out on weekdays is Lagoa. It has kilometers of perfect bicycle patharound a lagoon with that exceptional view of the surrounding mountains andCristo do Redenter. The father of Guanabara Boards, Alex Batista, born in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, rode a street skateboard since a young age. Unfortunately, a few years ago he had a very bad back injury which prevented him from riding. At that time, his skateboard was a huge part of his life and was riding at a professional level so it was a huge blow to have to stop. He put his head down and built a chain of IT businesses, and although he was becoming very successful, something wasn’t right in his heart. He decided to sell the business to search for something with more meaning. Afterseeing some longboard videos, he realized that he could apply his street and classic freestyle skateboard skills to a longboard, which would be more stable for his back. He started doing his tricks with a longboard and began to develop the longboard dancing freestyle scene in Rio. He soon started giving lessons to share his passion with everyone who wanted to learn too and the Guanabara Boards Escola de Skate was born. One day, Alex was teaching in one of the most beautiful places to ride in Rio, Aterro do Flamengo, and he saw a pretty woman, Teresa, about to ride down a hill with her Penny board. She, of course, fell and bumped her cute face on the concrete on the way down. Alex saw her falling, came to her and got her to the hospital. She told me of the romantic moment, her savior came to her, and I can believe it, because last year they went to Teresa’s brother in Australia and got married while longboarding by the amazing beaches of Queensland. It’s the kind of love story, we usually only see in the movies, but this awesome story isreal. Teresa is a professional photographer and video-maker. She is the producer of many Guanabara Boards videos. She is also the creator of Boardettes in her homeland London. She has also now brought Boardettes to Brazil. Boardette’s mission is to initiate women and girls to learn boardsports or to deepen their skills andchallenge themselves. It’s a digital and real-life community of powerful female riders. They now run Guanabara Boards together with it’s escola de skate. Alex and Teresa are excellent teachers, together unifying the perfect match of technique and fun. I learned very quickly with them and I am still practicing a lot here in my town. Guanabara’s vision is about challenging yourself, being free and finding your balance. They run workshops all over Brazil, including in Sao Paulo, Fortaleza and Brasilia. Beyond skate classes, the team are currentlyworking on making their very own Guanabara’s longboards in Brazil.When the crew aren’t teaching skateboarding to their students they can be found at the square outside of MAM (Museu do Arte Moderna). Here, I learned dancing with the local skateboard community who meet up regularly to encourage riders to keep pushing, and remind everyone that, first and foremost, is the fun. The four year company has grown up very fast. If you are a rider or if you plan to travel in Brazil, just take your backpack and go to explore the breathtaking country. Head to Rio de Janeiro, the cidade maravilhosa, and meet the awesome Guanabara team and learn to live the Guanabara Boards lifestyle. PHOTOS: Teresa Madeline Geer Batista